Adam, where art thou?

I just read Peter Enns’ disturbing book, The Evolution of Adam, which attempts to integrate evolution with Paul’s belief in a historical Adam. If this book is the evangelical path to the future, our children are in a heap of trouble.

Enns says that Paul clearly believed that Adam was the historical first man whose disobedience brought sin and death into the world. However, evolution has proven that Paul was wrong about this, so we must find a way to honor the spirit of what Paul was up to even while disagreeing with his facts.

Paul’s main point in Romans 5:12-21 is to explain how Jesus’ resurrection saves us all from sin and death. Paul merely uses Adam to explain why we all are burdened with this problem of sin and death. Paul was wrong about Adam (he didn’t realize that his Jewish cultural assumptions had misinformed his view of history), but this doesn’t change the fact that we all are sinful and die. And so we all still need Jesus, which is the main point anyhow. Paul’s gospel remains unchanged, even though one of his key facts is wrong.

Enns’ argument reminds me of Langdon Gilkey’s 1961 essay, “Cosmology, Ontology, and the Travail of Biblical Language” (The Journal of Religion). Gilkey noticed that his Neo-Orthodox mentors wanted to keep the spiritual freight of “the mighty acts of God” even though they didn’t believe such events actually occurred. God didn’t miraculously deliver his people from Egypt, but we can still talk about Israel’s redemption as if he did. Gilkey called foul on his friends and said that we aren’t allowed to keep the spiritual meaning if we dismiss the historical facts on which they are grounded.

But 50 years later, this is exactly what Enns is trying to do. He declares that Scripture is correct to say that sin and death are universal, even though its historical explanation for why everyone sins and dies is clearly mistaken (p. 123-26).

So why do we all sin and die? Enns says he doesn’t know, so he throws that question to “the tremendously important work of Christian philosophers and theologians” and promises to “be among the many who listen in on those discussions and try to discern the best way forward” (p. 127).

Thanks, Pete! Since you asked, I recommend Chris Brauns’ new book, Bound Together, which fills the hole you dug and left us with. Adam’s historical rebellion is the reason we sin and die, and our solidarity with him is why we can be saved by a similar solidarity with Jesus, the last Adam. It isn’t that complicated, but it is counter-cultural, especially today.

13 Comments

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  1. Enns could play the Fuller seminary card – yes its a lie – but its an important lie, one we can learn much from…
    Or he could play the Nietzsche card like Gilkey did for his peers – a ruthless consistently demands that you don’t half step in the lane – either drive to the hole or get off the court. Nietzsche slammed Kant with this, and as it turns out he was right, both theologically, logically and historically. If you don’t believe then fine, live with it and what it means! Of course Nietzsche couldn’t live with it any more than Sartre or Russell.
    One wonders why anyone ever believed in that old rascal Saul/Paul – according to Jewett and a host of others – Paul was all wrong about women. According to Jones and Maclaren and a host of others Paul was all wrong about homosexuality, and now according to Enns and Ross and a host of others, Paul was all wrong about where sin came from (as was Jesus apparently but then we all know Jesus always catered to Jewish sensibilities…)
    So why believe a single word that comes out of Paul’s mouth Dr. Enns? The Dawkins pond doesn’t admit sort of believers of any stripe, except Harris semi Buddhist self but apparently that doesn’t count. If you want to swim in that pond you are going to have to eventually drop that whole sin thing altogether, and while you are well on that path, please look at the world and explain the phenomena we actually can observe, qua Chesterton, and then maybe you will look at what might have or theoretically happened in the biological past differently.
    It is a sad thing to watch the dissolution of faith in an individual (It has broken my heart to watch Pinnock dissemble over the course of my lifetime!) but it is even worse if we don’t call out the unbelief in our midst.

  2. Excellent post Mike – very helpful!

  3. Charles Wineman March 12, 2013 — 10:38 pm

    Thank you for your insights on Enn’s book. After reading it a couple of weeks ago, I had to stop and wonder why someone would even put into print a model of theology in which sin and death remains unexplained or worse yet how did that model get published?

  4. Good stuff, Mike, Rob- keep up the fact that God wants to be known as G-D, Adonai/ Lord and any erosion of that stipulated identity (for humanity to ponder and respect) leads to a multiplicity of gods and hence behold the re-entry of sin and bonjour tristesse! The stuff is viral, current as well as neanderthal in origin.

  5. How insidious the word of God–the truth–is being dismantled. We are all called to be on guard for false teachings/wolves in sheep clothing. Thankful for you who sound the warning for the rest of us

  6. The options seem to be (1) there is so such thing as sin, or (2) God created sin as a part of the world, or (3) sin entered God’s good world. Option three seems to have the majority of votes, so the second choice becomes either (a) God told us how sin entered the world [through Adam], or (b) he didn’t.

    Am I missing something obvious?

  7. Matt: Your last choice left out the option Enns picked–God told us how sin entered the world and He was wrong.

  8. Mike, Isn’t it interesting that Ken Ham was the one who was disinvited from home school conventions a couple of years ago for raising similar points about Enns?

  9. ^ should read “no such thing as sin”

  10. Dave Carpenter June 2, 2013 — 3:39 pm

    Mike, I see that BioLogos is moving its main office to Grand Rapids.

  11. Hmm. And the plot thickens? Now if we can only get Ken Ham to relocate we can have a real hootenanny. I’m sure that’s misspelled, but I don’t know how and I don’t care.

  12. I just checked their website and their president is a former Calvin College prof. I wonder if that has anything to do with the move.

  13. Dave Carpenter June 2, 2013 — 10:26 pm

    I am not celebrating.

    “BioLogos is a community of evangelical Christians committed to exploring and celebrating the compatibility of evolutionary creation and biblical faith, guided by the truth that “all things hold together in Christ.” [Col 1:17]”
    http://biologos.org/questions/category/the-first-humans

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